Why Wood and
The ancestor of modern wood and canvas canoes has its roots firmly in the Birch Bark Canoe tradition of North America. Although the earliest documented account of these canoes is not until 1535, it is clear that canoes had been used in North America for much longer, perhaps thousands of years.
Birch Bark canoes are a wondrous craft. To take materials readily available in the surrounding forest and with hand tools create a lightweight, flexible, robust and forgiving craft that can be paddled and carried by one person over thousands of miles is still one of humanity's greatest technological achievements.
There became a time in North American history however when the volume of European settlers, fueled by the promise of land and the riches of the fur-trade, outstripped the ability of the local canoe builders to collect enough bark and make enough canoes. The wood and canvas canoe technique incorporated an ingenious way to use readily available canvas as a skin instead of birch bark, and was coupled with an ingenious method of construction (the permanent canoe form) which could deal with the demands of increased production.
The lines of these first canoes borrowed heavily from the superbly functional designs of the local Indians and the construction methods were simply an extension of earlier skills. What evolved, then, was a wonderful marriage of tried and tested designs and methods, coupled with the advantages and fresh eyes that modernity brought to the problem.
Left: peeling birch bark to use in canoe building. Photo - Henri Vaillancourt
Below: birch bark canoe
The word 'traditional' often carries an unnecessary regressive connotation, as if things from the past can never match things of the present or future in functional prowess. We believe that this is simply not the case.
In canoe journeying, wood and canvas canoes are every bit as practical as the most modern boats. The advantages of cedar are numerous; light, flexible, water-resistant, rot-resistant, strong and warm to the touch, not to mention beautiful. Canvas is also flexible, strong, durable and lightweight. Our canoes are trimmed with local hardwoods, where we are simply spoiled with the UK's excellent selection and diversity. And because all these materials are selected with care, we stand by their fitness for purpose.
Although we would confidently back wood and canvas canoes in any match with modern materials, they are certainly a holistic, living craft. They are not a soul-less, static entity which can be neglected. They do require care and attention from time to time, as any vehicle does, but these requirements are generally limited to a lick of varnish every once on a while. And contrary to ignorant views of 'traditional' craft, they are in many ways more practical, by the ease and accuracy in which they can be repaired. It is testament to the durability of these craft that there are many boats still in circulation which are well over a hundred years old.
Wood and Canvas canoes grow with their owners. They can offer you the opportunity to attach valuable skills to the canoeists armoury by learning simple techniques for restoration and maintenance. In addition, paddling a wood and canvas canoe will hone your canoeing skills in a way which modern plastic boats don't always encourage.